There is a political speak and there is normal speak. The language that politicians speak to us in is unique because of the duality in their words. While most of us speak to convey our thoughts and ideas, politicians often make a deliberate construct of words which is meant to obfuscate and give contrary signals. Good journalists are able to see through this doublespeak, which is why TV debates get noisy and volatile at times when anchors decode those statements and confront politicians over them.
Before TV debates happened, this putting down of journalists who decoded political speak by party spokespersons and officials happened off camera.
Now everything is on-camera. Nothing escapes public scrutiny. Some politicians have made doublespeak into an art form. Like Atal Behari Vajpayee who famously said “I have only one message for the Chief Minister (Narendra Modi) he should practice Raj Dharma. I am doing that… trying to do that. There should be no discrimination in the state… not on the basis of birth, caste, community… I have faith that Narendra Modi will do it.” It was up to others to interpret what he meant by those words. Modi, sitting next to Vajpayee, did not betray any nervousness. He kept smiling, quite confident that Vajpayee would couch even the mildest of criticisms in a web of decodable words. An understanding had been reached earlier.
Similarly, Rajiv Gandhi made the pitiless remark “when a big tree falls, the earth shakes” about the killing of hundreds of Sikhs after the assassination of his mother, Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. The comment has been debated for decades. Rajiv Gandhi was killed before he expressed remorse over that heartless remark, and Vajpayee never chastised Modi in public or explained what he meant about ‘Raj Dharma’.
Here are my favourite double speaks and their interpretations.
1) I am not in the race for PM. Translation : I have not yet eliminated the other contestants. It is an uphill battle so I need to appear reluctant and least ambitious but oh my god! I am so keen to be PM.
2) X is my leader and Y is my elder brother. Translation: In my scheme of things Y is my competitor and X is insignificant. Hence I decided to call X my leader, because he so obviously is not.
3) There can be no India without secularism. I need the Muslim vote. I will attend Iftars, I will wear a skull cap, I will say adaab and shukriya but I will also tell my daughter (in private) to marry anyone, but not a Muslim.
4) I am a Hindu. Translation: Tricky. If a non-BJP person says this then it means he is apologetically saying this or is testing waters to move to the BJP. If a BJP member is saying this, then it means he is speaking to the RSS via the media.
5) Law will take its own course. Translation: I or We are guilty as hell but have the power to silence all and let this drag on in courts till the media forgets and you, the janta, couldn’t care less.
6) Inquiry has been ordered. Translation: The issue is being pushed under the carpet, as the guilty are powerful and we really can’t do much.
7) It is an internal party matter, the decision was unanimous. Translation: How dare anybody question the decision taken by the Parivaar or Family? Those who dissented have been informed that they can leave the party or will be made to. Unity means no ‘other’ point of view will be tolerated.
8) That is his personal opinion, not the official party position. Translation: He is an idiot for having a point of view. Still needs to be tutored that only parrots can tweet or speak in and for the party.
9) The Third Front is a failed idea. Translation: We are terrified of the grouping that might emerge and will do everything we can to buy, cajole or tempt as many loose cannons as possible.
10) We want good neighbourly relations. Translation: We don’t want to go to war so Mind It.
11) We had free and frank talks and ideas were exchanged. Translation: It was no holds barred where we accused each other of the vilest of crimes but that the abusing would stay behind closed doors.
12) The best is yet to come. Translation: The one or two or three terms in office was insufficient, elect us again or that road/bridge/airport/school will never be built and the land will remain dug up.
Smita Prakash is Editor, News at Asian News International. You can follow her on Twitter @smitaprakash